This time of year we see article after article warning farmers to work safely, but the small sector of employees that work long, hard hours at ag retailer operations are seldom mentioned. Limited discussion about ag retailer employees is because the ag industry has safety programs and training in place that farmers don’t go through. But safety training isn’t a lock against accidents occurring.

Statistics show higher fatality rates for older farmers, and the question is whether that can transfer to part-time employees, sometimes retired farmers, who are employed by ag retailers for the busy season of spring and fall. Long hours can take a toll on an older person trying to continue to be alert to dangers and proper equipment operation.

Farmer complacency is often listed as a possible reason for a high mortality rate in farming and the agriculture sector. Experienced ag retailer workers have the tendency for complacency, too, because they have done the same task time after time without any problems; they know how to operate the equipment, and the more familiar they become with that equipment the more potential to take a shortcut—one that doesn’t hurt anything and speeds up an operation, in their mind.

People who have grown up on a farm have probably had “close calls” in their lifetime. The mentality might be that a close call is to be expected because everyone has had a close call, right? Some people don’t change their mindset until they have a close call, which sometimes turns into a big accident, and the person doesn’t get a second chance. 

Complacency occurs with being highly familiar in operating a piece of equipment. Evidence of this complacency is how tractors are responsible for the majority of farm-related agricultural fatalities. Tractors accounted for nearly 70 percent of the fatalities with tractor overturns and run overs accounting for 57 percent of the fatalities, according to national statistics.

With today’s GPS guidance and precision ag equipment on dry and liquid applicators, it would seem that complacency and being unable to stay alert back and forth across fields, as the equipment basically driving itself, would be a formula for an accidents. An operator’s mind has to wander once in awhile.  

“One non-farm example of familiarity and mind wandering would be driving your car. Have you ever arrived somewhere and felt like you couldn’t remember part of the trip as well as you should be able to?,” asked Deb Chester, project coordinator for the Michigan Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (MIFACE) research program.

She said to reduce complacency, actively look for hazardous risk, work to minimize these risks and work toward habits that include safety as a primary goal.

Before ending the analysis about safety, we should also recognize that custom application equipment has gotten bigger and taller. The Safe Electricity organization tells “farm workers to be particularly alert to the dangers of working with tall equipment near overhead power lines.”

Operators need to be aware of their equipment height and doubly concerned of increased height when loading and transporting applicators on truck trailer beds. Many applicators can be equipped with radios and communications systems that have tall antennas extending from the cab that could make contact with power lines.

"Follow safe work practices at all times-even if it takes a little extra time-to prevent tragic accidents," said Molly Hall, executive director of the Safe Electricity program. "Start by making sure everyone knows to maintain a minimum 10-foot clearance in all directions from power lines. It can be difficult to estimate distance, and sometimes a power line is closer than it looks. A spotter, someone with a broader view, can help."

Simply coming too close to a power line while working is dangerous as electricity can arc or "jump" to conducting material or objects, such as a ladder, pole, or truck. Remember, non-metallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes, and hay will conduct electricity depending on dampness, dust, and dirt contamination.

"If your equipment does come into contact with power lines, stay in the cab and call for help," explains Hall. "Don't try to maneuver out of the power lines yourself. You could make an incredibly dangerous situation even worse."